Kotaku just ran a story about a serious Nintendo fan named Jon who bought a lot of digital games last generation: over $400 dollars’ worth – believe me, he provided a Club Nintendo library shot to prove it. Jon wound up buying a Wii U, creating a Nintendo Network ID, and then transferring his Wii purchases to his new system…except there was a problem. His Wii U didn’t work, so he had to buy a new one. Thinking that his Nintendo Network ID would function like, I dunno, the IDs for pretty much every other digital content management account system in existence, Jon took his Wii U back to the store to exchange it for a new one.
But as it turns out, Nintendo Network IDs are different from other digital accounts in one key way: they’re still tied to one piece of hardware, and only Nintendo has the ability to remove or transfer them. Compare that to Xbox 360, Apple, and Steam, where you can register your ID on a number of different devices and gain access to the same content, and you can imagine why he’d be confused. Jon lost access to his content completely – Nintendo won’t transfer digital content unless you send in both the original system and the new system to their repair department. Instead, they decided to give him $200 in eShop credit (most of the games he’d bought last gen aren’t available on the eShop), and sent him on his unmerry way.
What’s the reason for all the trouble Nintendo owners have to go through? It’s because Nintendo’s afraid you’ll find a way to re-sell your downloadable games.
This is a terrible digital rights management policy. Yeah, I said it: terrible. It’s terrible because it sacrifices the security of customers’ purchases and prioritizes Nintendo’s own security (which to be frank, probably wasn’t in jeopardy in the first place) – a direct violation of the “customer first” principle that made Nintendo a pleasant company to do business with in the first place.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I would buy every Wii U game I intend to own digitally if Nintendo guaranteed that that ownership is perpetual and extends beyond the hardware I originally downloaded it to. No complicated customer service rituals, no need to hang on to my old system until I get my new one, no having to ship the digital content I already bought on the system that I also bought halfway across the country and back just so I can download it again on something else that I bought.
Why am I so passionate about the idea of going digital? Because I know that at some point, future hardware’s going to stop supporting the same discs we have now. And at some point, just like my Wii, my Wii U’s optical disc drive will burn out, or the CPU will fry, and I’ll have to buy another new platform to play my stuff on anyway – and if all my games are physical copies, what then? Digital games don’t have that limitation – in theory, you’ll always be able to download them again. All you’ll need is some form of software emulation, kept up to date with the passing generations, and presto! Permanent game library that transcends the test of time!
Does Nintendo know how much value they’re squandering by not making this a clear and obvious and attainable possibility? If owning games means being able to play them forever and not just for a generation or two or until your old systems die, don’t you think people are going to be less picky and choosy about what they play?
But that’s not the Nintendo way, apparently:
Different companies take different approaches to preventing the resale of downloadable games. Anyone who experiences any issues with a Nintendo system or game should contact Nintendo Customer Service at 800-255-3700 or http://www.nintendo.com/consumer/index.jsp. Once a system has been sold or traded in, and the system is no longer in possession of the original owner, the downloadable content cannot be recovered.
And that’s why “different companies” have become giants in the digital content world, while others have not. Doesn’t Nintendo think they should try crafting their account systems after the successful ones, and not shackling them with crappy hardware-locked DRM schemes that have failed consistently for every company that’s ever attempted them? (And, worse, driven customers away to the competition.)
Because when your policy to prevent people from doing you wrong impacts the convenience and security of honest, paying customers, they’re likely to go somewhere with more convenience and better security. Because, at the end of the day, if you don’t ensure that you’re fully satisfying your customers at a critical level of your business, you’re going to have unsatisfied customers. And, trust me, you lose a lot more money on unsatisfied customers when they decide not to buy from you the next time around than you do on pirates and thieves.
I said earlier that Nintendo’s biggest strength lines in forging strong relationships with its customers through its Nintendo-exclusive games. Building those strong relationships with customers builds trust between you and them and keeps them coming back for more. They trust you to make the games they want; you trust them to buy them when you make them.
But Nintendo’s DRM policy isn’t built on trust – it’s built on paranoia and uncertainty, on an unwillingness to place faith in the customer to manage his or her own content. And, as you might expect, a lack of trust from above is bound to translate to a lack of trust from below.
In hindsight, it’s clear that if there’s anything that’s characterized the loss of momentum following the Wii U launch, it’s a lack of trust. A lack of trust in Nintendo’s lineup beyond the launch window due to Nintendo never mentioning any of it until just a couple weeks ago, when they seemed to suddenly wake up and realize that no one can anticipate games that they don’t know exist. A lack of trust on the part of fans in Nintendo’s ability to attract third-party titles, which translates to a lack of faith on the part of the third parties themselves… and lost exclusives. And, as we’ve seen from the basically non-existent momentum at present, that lack of trust has expressed itself quite plainly in a lack of Wii U purchases.
When Nintendo’s trying to sell systems, they don’t have the luxury of making choices that could damage the relationship between them and their potential customers. If anything, Nintendo needs to be bending over backwards to ensure that Wii U doesn’t get a bad reputation as “the system with nothing to play,” “the system no third party will develop for,” or – worst of all – “the system that won’t let you keep the games you already bought.”